Grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who of you remembers the theme of the Vacation Bible School? The prophets, of course. And, what is a prophet? A man who received directly the Word of God and proclaimed it to the people, specifically the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Often the prophets called on Israel to return to obedience to the will of God and spoke of God's judgment if the people did not listen. But they also prophesied the coming of the Messiah who would fulfill all the righteousness and mercy of God.
In the Nicene Creed we confess: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets,"
When the prophets prophesied and wrote, the Spirit of God was active in them. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1:1) writes: "God at sundry times and in many ways in times past spoke to the fathers by the prophets."
The last of the prophets whom God sent to the people of Israel under the old covenant (that He made with Abraham, Moses, King David and the other patriarchs of Israel) was John the Baptist. A cousin of Jesus, John was born six months before the Savior. And when he grew into a man, Matthew says in chapter 3 of his gospel:
"In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight his paths."
As our reading of the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:1-8) says: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert for our God." These are the same words inspired by the Holy Spirit the prophet Isaiah who lived many centuries before Matthew.
How John kept this prophecy? He lived in the wilderness around the Jordan River, dressed in camel hair, and had a leather belt around his waist and his food was locusts and wild honey. He called the children of Israel to repentance for the coming of the Messiah was near. Finally, he pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
However, not everyone liked the call to repentance because they did not want to change their way of life. When John spoke against the tetrarch Herod and his immorality, Herod threw John in prison. As a faithful servant of God, he never thought of his own reward or glory, even in prison John pointed to Jesus. He sent his last disciples to Jesus with this question, Art thou he that should come, or should we look for another?
John knew the answer, that his work and his life had ended, but for the sake of his disciples, he pointed to Christ once again. And Jesus said that the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Him and also in John: "For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Truly, I say: Among those born of women never rose a greater than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Those last words of Jesus mean that John did not have the gospel in its fulness, for he died before the death and resurrection of Christ. In this we have the full revelation of the justice and mercy of God. As the author of Hebrews says God "in these last days has spoken unto us by his Son."
Christ fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament, and the apostles preached the gospel of Christ and wrote in the New Testament all we need to know to be saved. There will be no new revelations until the second coming of Christ. The holy law of God teaches us the need to repent and change our lives. In the gospel, the good news that Christ paid the price for our sins on the cross and His resurrection assures us of victory over death and the promise of eternal life.
The prophets received the Word of God directly from God through the Holy Spirit. The apostles received the doctrine of salvation directly from Christ and by he Holy Spirit preached it. But if there will be no new revelations and Christ is no longer with us in a visible way, where are the messengers of God to proclaim the gospel to all nations?
Christ has given the church the authority to call and send men like me to preach the Word and administer the sacraments. Thus St. Paul says in our Epistle for today (1 Corinthians 4:1-5): "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. "
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the church on the day of Pentecost and He is still active in the preaching of the Word and the sacraments. As a called and ordained servant of the church, when I announce in the place and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of your sins, I speak with the authority of Christ. When I preach the Word, I speak with the Holy Spirit's power and the authority of the Lord.
So, what is the first requirement to be a minister of the church and a messenger of Christ like the prophets and apostles? St. Paul says: "Now, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." That means I have a responsibility to preach and teach the pure doctrine and nothing else, and never think about my own glory, but always pointed Christ as John the Baptist.
So let's pray for all preachers and pastors that Christ will say of them like He did of John the Baptist:
"What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet."
We can be more than the prophets only because of Christ who is Lord of all and has delivered the most complete Word of them all. May you find in this Word the peace that passes understanding of the world. Amen.
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